This month, we interviewed Unspeakable artist Kelleia to learn more about how her unique travel experiences and background in dance have influenced the music she creates. Read the full conversation below!
What inspired you to start writing/producing your own music?
I always kind of knew I was going to write my own music; it just took me a while to get out of my own way. Until 2012, I was on a straight line path to being an urban sociologist, finishing grad school in London, with creative outlets like dance and music playing second fiddle to my professional and academic goals. I reached a breaking point that year. One too many times I had said to myself during the myriad concerts I attended, “I need to be that person on stage, singing to me. I can be that person.” So I went for it. I moved back to LA to write my dissertation and lived with an old high school friend who was now a music producer. Watching Kylie tinker away in the studio only planted the seed - it was still a serpentine road as I dabbled in learning different music styles while traveling the world.
I studied harmonium, learned ragas, and led kirtan in India, I learned reggae medicine songs in Colombia, I played guitar in Oregonian forests. It was a time of gradual crossover, learning other people’s music and learning to make my own. My epoch as a producer began shortly after I met my partner, teacher and collaborator Connor (Auralponic) at a Producers’ Social at Lucidity Festival in Santa Barbara in early 2016. I soon thereafter realized the treasure chest of possibilities that lay in being able to produce my own music, not limited to just my voice and a notebook or what I was able to translate to my collaborator.
I can be impatient and I couldn’t keep waiting or expecting another person to do the production work or, even more, to entirely nail the ideas I had in my head into music. So I picked up Ableton and started to produce my own music. And from there, I began to make my truest songs, ones that feel like a direct expression of my soul.
How does dance and movement influence your sound?
Having danced for over 20 years, I have a deep knowledge of the emotive quality of rhythm, accents, and fluid motion because I feel this all with my body. When a new song is first taking shape, the emotion arises first within my energetic field, emerges as a physical manifestation of groove and feeling, and then gets translated sonically. Dancing helps me feel the song beyond just the aural plane and takes it out of the cerebral, critical space; just like some artists have synesthetic powers, dancing allows me to understand what I’m composing on yet another level. I actually wrote one of my songs “Be Kind” while I was dancing in front of the mirror in my living room. I had made the beat the night before and had a bit of writer’s block, but once I started dancing, the lyrics and melodies just came pouring out.
Do you have a pre-show ritual?
Before a performance, I like to sit alone and meditate for 10 minutes. I generally do a simple breath-focused and grounding meditation where I visualize myself as a white-barked tree with great roots energetically connecting to the Earth’s core and then follow my focus back up through my body and out into the sky, into space. This helps remind me of my place in the cosmos, a human who gets to live on this special green planet and create abundance. This helps me remember to get out of my own way so that nerves or damaging self-consciousness don’t limit my performance. I also like to eat a ginger candy that my grandma gave to me to keep any throat frogs at bay, and I’ll do some vocal warmups.
You just got back from burning man. What was your experience performing there?
I was really pushed out of my comfort zone at Burning Man, and I loved it. It was exactly what I needed! We stayed at a live music camp called Reverbia, and two weeks before the festival were told by the camp manager that we couldn’t use any electronic backing tracks. So Connor and I had to reimagine our entire set as a live, semi-acoustic, looping performance. Here the problem turned out to be the solution, and I gained so much confidence in live looping and even led live loop jams for other people. It was also just so great to play all my music out for other people and not just hear my songs over again in the studio. Getting feedback from strangers or new friends regarding my music is so helpful and reminds me how much music needs to be widely shared. We also got to stage manage and perform in the most amazing sound-reactive LED paneled structure called the Radiance Dome every night from 2-6am, which let us watch the sunrise every morning. It was absolute magic and divine times.
If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would it be?
I just met Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs last night randomly, so he’s the first person that comes to mind, and I’m manifesting the opportunity to write music with him. He told me the story of his process of writing a song with another artist, and it made me remember he does more than just producing, he also sings and writes, which is a big yes please! I was also extremely moved by RY X and Cocorosie at Oregon Eclipse Gathering, so I’d love to write with them.
What are some of your favorite hangout spots in LA?
I love Echo Park, because it’s just a mile from my house and it plops me right into some semblance of nature in the thick of LA. I’m really pretty laid-back when I’m in LA, mostly working on music, working at the club, or playing with my cats. Cheetahs, where I dance, can also be a pretty rad chill & party space. I also like going to the Korean spa to rejuvenate and love myself, and I will generally not miss a Pussy Power House event (most recently at ThinkTank DTLA) for a chance to meet other powerful people. The Hollywood Bowl is also amazing ‘cause it’s like a mini urban festival.
If you were a style of eggs, what would you be and why?
I’d be a soft poached egg because they’re healthier than fried but still yummy. I like the unexpected squishiness and ooziness of the inner half-cooked yolk that you don’t get to experience until you’ve sliced into it. You just have to trust that it’s done right and then get pleasantly surprised by the inside. I think that’s a cute metaphor for relating to myself and others.
What have you been listening to recently?
Right now, at this very moment, I’m listening to a classical piano and cello playlist. I listen to KCRW when I’m driving or at home making dinner. I’ve really been feeling Sabrina Claudio’s “Belong To You” and since I’ve been DJing recently, I’ve been digging into archives of funk disco, house, and R&B. I listened to a good part of The Internet’s Ego Death the other day.
What role does yoga and meditation play in your creative process?
Yoga has taught me a level of awareness that I get to use in all parts of writing and creating music. My practice of yoga - the physical postures, breath work, and meditation - provides the foundation from which I can write the most poignant lyrics and also have a keener discretionary capacity when composing and listening to my mixes. Meditating before a studio session has markedly improved my ability to pinpoint exactly what it is that I’m harnessing in a musical endeavor; I just get more done with less effort.
As a female artist and conscious being, how do you cope with and/or address a lot of the issues our country is facing today?
With all the natural calamities and oppressive psychic manipulation that is occurring throughout the US and abroad, it’s seriously imperative that artists like myself continue to speak out and create visionary and progressive art to transmute the pain, confusion, and vacuousness that is left from these destructive forces. In the face of the great Orangina and what he represents, in the face of ever-imposing anthropogenic climate change and the careless attitudes of we consumers who feed it, we, especially women-identifying creatures, need to express the fuck out of ourselves. Let’s talk about our cervixes and wombs in both medical and sexual ways so that we can really take care of ourselves. Let’s create neighborhoods where gathering spaces are a plenty, where neighbors are friends, so social isolation and xenophobia can’t persist. I’m a Korean-American female, an urban sociologist and environmental designer, a permaculture zealot, a lover, an artist, and I want to increasingly tell all of the stories that I represent through my music.
Do you have any upcoming shows, releases, or projects you can tell us about?
Yes! I’ll be releasing one single per month for the next 6 months. I’m so excited! These are my babies that I’ve been nurturing for the last two years and they are ready to be born. I’m treating each one as the masterpiece single that it is and eventually I’ll compile them into a larger body of work.
My next project will be to study Korean folk music and shamanism. I want to keep these traditions alive through nods to stylistic elements or samples of traditional Korean instruments.
No shows on the horizon as of yet, but there may be a tour coming up soon!
Join my mailing list on kelleiamusic.com to keep up with me :)